The role of international cooperation in disaster risk reduction

Source(s): Stockholm Environment Institute
Two women walking down a plath carrying baskets, in Nepal
Aleksei Kazachok/Shutterstock

The theme for this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is #OnlyTogether , focusing on Target F of the Sendai Framework for DRR: enhancing international cooperation for developing countries to reduce disaster risk and losses.

To mark the occasion, SEI researchers reflect on the role of international cooperation, the challenges faced in the Covid-19 pandemic context and what can be done to ensure developing countries are supported effectively to reduce vulnerability and build resilience.

Woman swimming in canal with goods next to homes on stilts, Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam

Photo: Tony Lam Hoang / Unsplash .

Cross-sectoral regional cooperation in response to Covid-19

Minh Tran: The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us of the importance of cooperation not only on a regional scale, but also across sectors. The highly contagious virus has threatened the health and well-being of communities beyond national borders, forcing countries to tighten border controls and increase surveillance over international travels to reduce transmission. However, global and regional solidarity has also emerged stronger given the realization that without shared resources, information and dialogues, no country is safe.

Covid-19 is inherently a disaster, with cascading impacts on social and economic systems and a reminder to increase collaboration between DRR action and the health sector. For instance, the Sendai Framework places health at the center of DRR efforts and articulates the importance of cross-sectoral coordination. However, implementing the Sendai Framework requires deeper and wider regional solidarity across sectors, with health and DRR actors working together to increase the health resilience of the region’s population.

In the Asia-Pacific region, although nations and island territories have made efforts to strengthen working links between health and DRR, these efforts are still located within the health sector, with little evidence of collaboration between the health and DRR sectors, particularly at the policy level. Even when the sectors come together, it is mostly for technical support or information sharing for emergency management.

Prioritizing locally led knowledge in Nepal and Thailand

Michael Boyland: The GCRF Political Capabilities for Equitable Resilience project is working with politically marginalized groups in Nepal and Thailand to shape DRR and development planning in urban contexts. Funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Global Challenges Research Fund, this research project is a form of international cooperation that supports the opening of new political spaces and emphasizes the importance of evidence, learning and alliances between interdisciplinary multi-stakeholder teams in Nepal, Thailand and the UK.

Despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, this project is an example of how international cooperation can support locally led knowledge production and political engagement to address urban development challenges and build equitable resilience. Pandemic recovery is a golden opportunity to ensure alternative development pathways are prioritized in our cities, where new alliances between historically marginalized communities have the political capabilities to shape their own futures.

Brightly coloured vegetables on cart with different-sized metal bowls pushed by two sellers in rain gear in heavy rain on flooded path, India

Photo: Milind Ruparel / Unsplash .

Gender-responsive and disability-inclusive DRR in Asia-Pacific

Camille Pross: In a regional review of gender-responsiveness and disability inclusion in DRR, our study found promising practices, but critical gaps exist in aligning international commitments with national and local DRR practices. International cooperation for DRR has advanced normative gender equality and disability inclusion in the Asia-Pacific region, but implementation at the national and local levels is still weak.

For instance, the Sendai Framework sets targets and indicators to guide countries in integrating gender equality and disability inclusion in their national DRR strategies. However, interviews revealed that the various stakeholders involved in DRR often lack the knowledge, capacity and coordination necessary to address the root causes of vulnerability.

This is particularly visible in efforts to collect sex-, age- and disability-disaggregated data. In the absence of centralized databases and monitoring systems, NGOs and civil society organizations at the local level tend to collect data in silos when they could be shared with national-level agencies to allow reporting towards the Sendai targets.

At the same time, focusing on data collection without adequate programmes to build transformative resilience tends to only acknowledge differentiated vulnerability instead of undertaking solutions. These gaps could be addressed by adopting a more holistic approach to DRR by allocating dedicated resources to gender and disability mainstreaming in DRR at all levels, institutionalizing multi-stakeholder cooperation and ensuring the meaningful participation of the most vulnerable at all levels of DRR governance.

Building urban resilience

Heidi Tuhkanen: In the SEI City Health and Well-being Initiative, we found that international cooperation can provide additional resources for strengthening multi-stakeholder work for nature-based solutions. In Nakuru, Kenya, SEI cooperates with county officials in both the environmental and urban planning departments to highlight the potential benefits of green infrastructure in one of Nakuru’s informal settlements.

Piloting participatory approaches help engage county officials, NGOs and residents to prioritize key issues with different perspectives. Participatory mapping workshops with residents highlight the importance of considering local knowledge and needs in planning, while participatory risk mapping helps to specify and prioritize urban planning to be resilient in the face of current and future climate risks.

Two women in rowboat on canal between shophouses flooded up to sidewalks during rainy season on overcast day, Hoi An, Viet Nam

Solving part of this coordination and collaboration puzzle rests on harnessing and leveraging information in new ways. Photo: Toomas Tartes / Unsplash .

Global platforms, local action for DRR development

Sukaina Bharwani: Global platforms that share lessons, challenges, successes and failures are key to providing the knowledge and data needed by DRR and adaptation stakeholders. weADAPT , its theme on transforming development and disaster risk and weTRANSFORM , a collaborative platform on transformation for equitable, resilient and sustainable development and DRR, provide the knowledge, capacity and coordination necessary to address the root causes of vulnerability through sharing resources, exchanging knowledge, supporting dialogue and peer-to-peer learning.

A key challenge remains: too much information exists online and it is often fragmented and reinforces the lack of coordination and tendency for people working in climate change adaptation and DRR to work in silos. The PLACARD Connectivity Hub addresses this, bringing together information from multiple platforms into a “search and discovery” widget, linking diverse knowledge across multiple scales, from national to regional and global.

Solving part of this coordination and collaboration puzzle rests on harnessing and leveraging information in new ways. This means using technologies ranging from taxonomies to AI-driven semantic searches  to create a shared understanding of language and terminology used in the DRR and climate change adaptation domains. This requires a new mindset, investment in key knowledge management practices and the collective will to operate in ways that make finding and sharing information easier.

Supporting environmental defenders for transformative DRR

Camille Pross: Local communities, especially Indigenous Peoples, often have their own conservation and DRR practices. This empirical knowledge tends to be overlooked by institutionalized DRR and conservation practices, which is guided by the state and shaped by “experts” with “scientific knowledge”. Research conducted by SEI under the Building resilience through inclusive and climate-adaptive disaster risk reduction in Asia-Pacific programme in Nepal and the Philippines shows that in some cases, this gap contributes to magnifying the vulnerability of marginalized groups. The study found examples of fortress conservation models used in national parks that lead to green grabs and the forced displacement of local communities who used to take care of their natural environments.

By considering humans threats to nature, this top-down conservation practice actually increased the displaced communities’ exposure to disasters. In Nepal, they had no other choice but to resettle near riverbanks, resulting in further exposure to floods and landslides. International cooperation has played a critical role in stressing the role of local communities to protect their environments and encouraging states and other actors to respect their rights to free, prior and informed consent for conservation initiatives. However, more work needs to be done to build on local DRR practices to develop efficient and inclusive DRR at the local level.

It is also crucial for the international cooperation community to critically reflect on international development and use its power and resources to redress inequalities instead of contributing to further marginalization. This could be done by supporting local communities in exercising their right to self-determination and empowering them to set their own development goals and use the means they find relevant to achieve them.

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Themes Governance
Country and region Nepal Thailand
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